If the problem is with local weather or air traffic control, all flights will probably be late and there is not much you or the airline can do to speed up your departure. If there is a mechanical problem with the plane for your particular flight or if the crew is delayed on an incoming flight, you might be better off trying to arrange another flight, as long as you do not have to pay a penalty or higher fare for changing your reservations. (It is sometimes easier to make such arrangements from a pay phone or cell phone than at a ticket counter.)
If you find a flight on another airline, ask the first airline to endorse your ticket to the new carrier, which could save you a fare increase. Remember, however, that there is no rule requiring an airline to do this. If you are using an electronic ticket, you will probably have to get paper documentation issued before it can be endorsed to another carrier.
If your flight is canceled, most airlines will rebook you on their next flight to your destination on which space is available, at no additional charge. If this involves a significant delay, find out if another carrier has seats and ask the first airline to endorse your ticket to that carrier. Finding extra seats may be difficult, however, especially over holidays and other peak travel times. You may also demand a refund for a canceled flight.
Each airline has its own policies about what it will do for delayed passengers waiting at the airport. There are no federal requirements regarding these amenities or services. If you are delayed, ask the airline staff if they will pay for meals or phone calls. Some do not provide any amenities to stranded passengers. Others may not offer amenities if bad weather or something else beyond the airline’s control causes the delay.
Before you book your flight, you may wish to check the web sites of the larger carriers for their voluntary Customer Service Plans, which list the amenities that those airlines will provide to passengers. Links to those web sites appear on the web site of the Department’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division at.
Contrary to the belief of some, airlines are not required to compensate passengers for “damages” when flights are delayed or canceled. Compensation is required by law only when you are “bumped” from a flight that is oversold.
Airlines almost always refuse to pay passengers for financial losses resulting from a delayed flight. If the purpose of your trip is to close a potentially lucrative business deal, to give a speech or lecture, to attend a family function, or to be present at any time-sensitive event, you might want to allow a little extra time and take an earlier flight. In other words, airline delays and cancellations are not unusual, and defensive planning is a good idea when time is your most important consideration.